October 14th

I took a friend to see a lawyer yesterday. About a decade ago, when she was a small girl and far too young to know what poor decisions were being made on her behalf, her parents left Mexico and drove the family to the United States illegally. They settled in Arizona, found odd jobs, raised their young family, and she was enrolled in the public schools. Her lack of American citizenship became her problem when she received scholarships for college. She couldn’t claim the funds; she didn’t have a Social Security number. Instead, she now attends a small private university paying for course by course out of pocket. She pays out of state tuition even though she’s lived here nearly her entire life. She works like you wouldn’t believe to help her family, manage her coursework and avoid ever drawing even a wink of attention from anyone in uniform.

Living in Phoenix, and having lived in Mexico, every side of illegal immigration seems incredibly ugly and miserable. Whether you are the poor rural Mexican family paying a coyote to shuffle you through hundreds of miles of hot desert, only to land in a drop house in a Phoenix suburb where you are enrolled in indentured servitude to pay off the smuggling fees, or the American families who pretend not to notice nearly everyone cooking their food, mowing their lawns, washing their cars are brown skinned and being paid under the table — the system is broken. Arizona schools are overwhelmed. Our hospitals cannot handle the emergency room cases, where non-citizens know they will always receive care. Our public services are feeling the strain of many who don’t pitch for their portion of the bill. It makes me sad the economy of Mexico isn’t strong enough to provide ample opportunities to their people. However, their corrupt government has made one bad economic decision after the other and when officials began distributing pamphlets for safe-desert crossing, I nearly lost my mind. Bureaucratic avoidance of responsibility at its worst! Governments should stand up for their citizens and work to make their countries stronger, not encourage their people to move to other lands to work illegally.

It took quite a bit of convincing on my part to even get M before the lawyer yesterday afternoon. I’m not sure if she knew before then that her parents had made a series of decisions that would forever influence her life, or if it was just sinking in when sitting across from a great immigration attorney in a fancy conference room, we heard the bad news.
She’s got few options as an illegal immigrant in the United States and even fewer considering one of her parents is now a legal resident. Family nonsense aside, this is the story of a sweet, smart young woman who simply wants to finish college and live the American life she’s loved for the last 20 years. She was brought here as a child, but is being punished as an adult. The attorney was blunt: don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t go near the border. Avoid cities with large immigration check points — namely southern California. Oh, and if you can swing it, marry an American. He specifically warned her against marrying anyone with a green card or residency permit. He must be a citizen, otherwise she’d more than likely be deported to Mexico for at least 10 years as a punishment and then could apply for a visa to live with her husband in the US. No bother that she doesn’t have anyone to return to in Mexico. She’s the baby. Everyone else is here and well settled.

M’s story is that of countless illegal immigrants living in the US. I’m not sure about amnesty, but I am certain that immigration reform is absolutely necessary. Living in a border state, having friends on both sides of the issue, it is crucial our leaders sit down and discuss openly how to create some solutions to this huge problem. With the recent economic craziness, issues like immigration reform get tossed aside in the national debate. I hope our next president does make immigration a top priority. While I am not sure how to make any of this better, I know the children who are brought to the US only to become hard-working, adults with character deserve better than a boot back to their home countries.

I wasn’t sure yesterday what smarted more — my pink, sunburned skin itching underneath my dress from the recent Mexican beach time (ironic?), or listening to the lawyer tell M to consider marrying and having babies to stay in the country. She is 21, bright and has so much she wants to do professionally. There simply must be another way.


Posted in
Arizona, Community, Journal, Politico
Follow the comments.

17 Responses

  1. Kel, this is really well written.

  2. I sure hope for M’s sake that some change in the right direction starts to happen with the immigration laws of this country.

  3. This is the human side of the issues we hear tossed around. M, and so many like her, deserve to be heard. Thank you for telling her story. I wish her well.

  4. You know her parents were only trying to get a better life for her but never realized the impact on her future and livelihood when she grew up.


  5. Wow. I can’t imagine the difficulties she has faced and will continue to face. To be told at such a young age that your only chance would be to get married and have a kid is such a shame….I truely wish her the best.

  6. Kelli,

    how incredibly frustrating and, as you said, simply unfair. i recently watched a great, great movie called The Visitor that speaks to this very issue, about the state of US immigration post-911 and how things have changed, i think for the worst. i wish that more people would see this movie and read your story, and then write their elected officials to see what changes can be enacted. unless US citizens want to start working at the “menial” jobs that immigrants currently hold, as you pointed out, we are dependent on them for our food, services, and cleanliness of place wherever we go. the double standard of “i don’t want to do that job” combined with “send them back to where they came from” is close to immoral.

  7. I can not tell you how many times i have heard this story.
    It makes me insane.
    What in the world are we doing?
    it is no easy thing to make people listen, and HEAR!
    I fear the end results will be something even more frightening than what goes on now.

  8. This is so well written and shows that the issues surrounding immigration are all about people just trying to obtain an education or work so that they can have a better life. My great grandparents were immigrants from Europe and I wonder if they came here legally? They came for the same reasons…education, work and freedom. I wish the best for your friend.

  9. How frustrating! I wish the people sitting in the offices where these decisions are made had more experience in what this feels like.We have people here in Austria that fled Kosovo during the war, have waited over 5 years for their assylum papers to be worked over only to be sent home because “the war is over now”.

  10. I’m sure your friend will find her way.
    We have the same problem here, lots of immigrants but that are creating lots of criminal problems, so the good people arriving here pay also for the bad ones…..

  11. Oh this just brakes my heart.

    Okay…I have just written and rewritten my comment a few times. This whole situation is so upsetting to me. I feel bad for the immigrants who truley deserve and give so much more than they receive. Learning about the history of the accquision of the Mexican Territory (now known as Arizona, California, Texas, and I believe NewMexico) makes me embarressed when I hear how the natives were treated.

    There are so many immigrants who make such a positive impact upon our society and get treated like crud. And yet there are “natural citizans” who are a drain to our society.

    When living in So. California I volunteered at an annual event that gave free dental work to all local immigrants. A great majority of these immigrants worked so hard in the fields. This is why we have such cheep produce prices. Anway, these people were the nicest and most appreciative people I have ever met. I wanted to adopt them all.

    I hold onto the hope that the bible provides that one day the meek shall inherit the earth. Notice it didnt say a nationality?

  12. Sorry that was so long! I just am very passionate about this subject.

  13. I have a friend who’s family was hit by something simular, but her situation is oposite. She’s an american residing in Mexico and her husband is Mexican. They married here in the U.S. and he was legal to work here and I’m not sure what all else.

    My friend, Kelly, moved to Mexico with her husband and 12 year old daughter because she gets along much better with her husband’s side of the family. She’s fluent in Spanish and teaches English there in a private school.

    What had happened is that her husband worked in the U.S. and was legal to do so, but on his way back to the US from visiting his wife and child, he was taken in by patrol at the border. He’s now home in Mexico, BUT they said after about 6 months he can go back to working in the U.S. I’ve heard this a lot from others, not just Mexicans, but another friend who’s legally married to an American woman but is stuck in UK for the same reason and will be able to go to his wife in around 6-12 months. Seems the US is deporting all they can, green card or not. Not sure of the whole situation, but it’s scary.

    I agree that something desperately needs to be done. My friend in Mexico is working there to support her husband and child. She said that in Mexico if a man is over 35 it’s very difficult for them to get a job. Most places are looking for younger men.

    Not to mention that if you make $20 a week you can count yourself lucky. She said that things are expensive in Mexico, considering the pay there. The children in the Villa my friend lives is poor and the children don’t have the simplest of things like crayons to color with at home. I mailed some to Kelly for her daughter and her daughters two friends. They were coloring for hours I was told. These children are so unselfish too even though they have very little.

    The youngest of the two, Yahir, he’s only 11 but is working in a store to help out his family. He bags in a grocery store and is paid in tips, but has made enough to buy himself one of the prepaid cell phones and give money to his mom for food. A landline in Mexico is so expensive, so most of the people there that that any sort of phone in her villa have Cell. Kelly said that it’s about $200 a month for a landline, which is crazy. At least I think I understood her correctly.

    I set her a webpage if you’d like to visit. She’s been living in Mexico for close to 3 years now. She said when she moved there she was considered the richest family in the villa. Kelly was concerned because people were going through their trash there. Kinda scary at first.


  14. How my hear aches for M!

    I pray for reasonable and fair solutions to this crisis.

  15. Kelli,

    I have a whole classroom full of M’s. I guess I am totally naive, but they are pretty safe as children and it never occurred to me that their illegal status problems would grow up with them. I think the first step towards making progress with this issue is to raise awareness of what it *really* is like. I know I need more education on the laws and the reality. Too many people see only the negative impacts (believe me I live them- daily in the classroom) still, we need to understand the human sides of this problem in order to treat it.

  16. Wow Kelli, this is very well written and so very heart breaking. I know all too well what you are talking about. Being here in Tucson and working at a hospital I see it all. Plus, my grandparents are legal immigrants from Mexico. I am so grateful for that. I truly hope that we will see a better way in the very near future.

  17. It is such a disaster that the US Government has created for itself. And now they believe the answer is to build a wall and become more strict on border policies. At least in my mind the real solution requires building steps towards a more open border. Including things like bettering the guest worker programs, spending government money on bettering the living and work situations in Mexico, and hopefully making it easier to become a citizen, rather than making it harder.

    I too know a girl who has grown up here and is still illegal. After coming here as a child she was even raised by an American family, but they were never able to adopt her because of her status. A few years ago she had a baby, who is adorable, but that just means more trouble with finding a job and insurance and doctors. I hope our government comes up with some really feasible solutions in a timely manner.